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06-20-2015, 11:35 PM
Coconut Oil – Bad Oil Gone Good
By J Hurricane

Coconut oil has had its ups and down in the food industry. One minute it was the best thing since sliced bread, the next it was being touted as a potential reason for heart disease. In the past year, many health experts have come out to fight coconut oil's rapid rise up the popularity ladder, as those who endorse, sell and enjoy coconut oil continue to back the saturated fat-filled white gold.

No-one can say for certain whether coconut oil is a health hero, or hazard. The fact that it is made up almost entirely of saturated fat raises alarm bells with some nutritionists because “Saturated fats are most often implicated in raising LDL cholesterol” (Whitney & Rolfes, 2013, p. 147).

The Rise Of Coconut Oil

Late in 2014, the craze surrounding coconut oil spilled out into the mainstream media. The implications of coconut oil in the diet were raised with nutritionists, oil producers and in New Zealand, a Heart Foundation spokeswoman. There is a lot of information on coconut oil so far, but it is also important to note that more research is needed.

Why Is Coconut Oil Supposedly Bad?

Of major concern is that coconut oil raises cholesterol levels. However, there are two different types of cholesterol. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is seen as the bad cholesterol, because it gathers in arteries (Whitney & Rolfes, 2013), whereas High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is seen as good cholesterol. Typically, intakes of saturated fat raise LDL cholesterol.

Most people immediately see that coconut oil has a high content of saturated fat and start running in the opposite direction. The media and numerous scientific studies have explained to us that saturated fat is bad, and should be avoided at all costs. As a result, coconut oil has been demonised by many healthy experts as an unhealthy food.

If they take a look at research, however, they would realise that even though saturated fat often causes an increase in the bad LDL cholesterol, “Not all saturated fats have the same cholesterol-raising effect” (Whitney & Rolfes, 2013 p. 147). If coconut oil raises HDL cholesterol, that is not such a problem.

HDL cholesterol is made by the liver, and it is made “to remove cholesterol from the cells and carry it back to the liver for recycling or disposal” (Whitney & Rolfes, 2013, p. 143). HDL cholesterol has also been found to reduce the risks of heart attacks (Whitney & Rolfes, 2013).

The Real Research Behind Coconut Oil

Research suggests that coconut oil may be one of the foods which has saturated fat, but isn't necessarily going to raise LDL cholesterol. Pure coconut oil is probably fine, but if that doesn't appeal as the 'healthy' option to you, you can always go for virgin coconut oil, potentially a better option. It has been found (via a study on rats) that virgin coconut oil can decrease cholesterol, phospholipids, and triglycerides found in tissue and serum, while virgin coconut oil also includes higher levels of phytosterols than pure coconut oil, and including phytosterols in the diet may be beneficial for lowering LDL cholesterol levels (Nevin & Rajamohan, 2009).

There is also no evidence to suggest that raised cholesterol levels from saturated fat actually cause heart disease. No studies have totally proven that high cholesterol causes atherosclerosis. Previous studies may focus on correlation, not causation. That is, they show an association between two things, but fail to show cause and effect (Sinatra, Teter, Bowden, Houston & Martinez-Gonzalez, 2014). Therefore this all but cancels out any fears about coconut oil's saturated fat content being detrimental to one's health.

Fat & Your Health

It should be taken into account that fat, and indeed saturated fat, is not just a good source of energy, but a vital macronutrient in any diet. Fat is needed because if it were omitted from the diet, people may lack energy, they may not get enough essential fatty acids, and for an athlete, their performance would suffer without fat (Whitney & Rolfes, 2013). Of course, there is another important benefit of saturated fat, particularly for guys, and that is that it helps you naturally boost your testosterone.

Included in anyone's fat intake should be some saturated fat, although in minute amounts compared with other fats, with saturated fat ideally making up no more than 10% of someone's total energy intake and around 7% of your total fat intake. Most sources of saturated fat typically come from animal sources (Whitney & Rolfes, 2013), and high consumption of saturated fat from meat is linked with oesophageal adenocarcinoma, or oesophageal cancer (Jiao, Kramer, Chen, Rugge, Parente, Verstovsek, & El-Serag, 2013), so perhaps that form of saturated fat should be limited, but again, not completely omitted from the diet. A piece of steak of pork here and there won't kill you, and they contribute more essential vitamins and minerals.

Saturated Fat Isn't The Culprit – Sugar Is

Instead of focusing solely on saturated fat as the cause of heart disease, research should be conducted around other, potentially more dangerous forms of food which are damaging people's health. Sugar is one of the major culprits, along with trans fats, which it has been noted should be consumed even less frequently than saturated fats.

Sugar comes in many shapes and sizes, but can basically be either refined (such as table sugar) or natural (such as fructose and lactose in fruits and milk). However, whereas fat delivers the consumer essential fatty acids among other benefits, sugar offers no such advantages except a spike in insulin levels. Sugar is empty calories, is “devoid of any nutrients” and “the body depletes its stored nutrients to metabolize it [sugar]” (Alpert, 2012, p. 209). The rise in insulin levels which sugar provides is possibly the most threatening effect it has on health though, given its domino effect. A rise in insulin typically results in fat storage, fat storage results in weight gain, and this puts people at risk of developing diabetes. This also increases triglyceride levels, which in turn are related to cardiovascular disease (Alpert, 2012).

There is little talk about how coconut oil may stack up against sugar, but the evidence is clear that when choosing between saturated fat and sugar, it may be safer to go with fat given its benefits compared with sugar's risks. Research shows that of the two types of LDL cholesterol (fluffy particles and small particles), small particles are linked to heart disease risk, and “small LDL gets a boost from a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet, especially one rich in sugars” (White, 2014, p. 32). This proves sugar has a link to raised LDL cholesterol, and that eating a diet with minimal fat doesn't reduce the risk of raised LDL cholesterol.

The Real Bad Fat

Trans fats, when not consumed naturally (a small number of foods have minuscule amounts of natural trans fats which have little or no adverse effects on health), have negative heath consequences including increased blood cholesterol and heart disease risks (Whitney & Rolfes, 2013). Trans fats are found in those greasy burgers and oil-soaked fries you get from your fast food joints, not to mention in some butters and margarines. Trans fats are made as a result of hydrogenation, which involve turning unsaturated points in the make-up of food into saturated fat by adding hydrogen molecules (Whitney & Rolfes, 2013). From there, food may be processed further to create trans fats. It's no surprise then, that most of our trans fats come from what we call processed foods.

06-20-2015, 11:39 PM
So Why Blame Coconut Oil?

Overall health is determined by someone's complete diet, not just one food they are eating. To say coconut oil alone may be the cause of things like heart disease and diabetes means that we fail to take into account the increased consumption of fast food and junk food, and while those foods do contain saturated fat, there are also significant levels of trans fats and sugars included in them which are bigger barriers to good health than something like coconut oil.

Coconut oil has further benefits. In Malaysia, a study was conducted with two groups of women with breast cancer – one (intervention) group used virgin coconut oil as a supplement, and one (control) group did not. It was found that after six cycles of chemotherapy, “symptoms of fatigue, dyspnoea, sleep difficulties and loss of appetite” (Law, Azman, Omar, Musa, Yusoff, Sulaiman & Hussain, 2014, p. 4) decreased in the intervention group, and it was determined that virgin coconut oil consumption could actually reduce the women's cancer symptoms.

There is also no research on exactly how much coconut oil is bad. People make it seem like coconut oil is used for absolutely every meal, and potentially is being substituted for other oils which are viewed as healthier options, such as extra virgin olive oil and canola oil. However, many people find a teaspoon or two of coconut oil each day to be enough.

There is good news for the ladies too (or guys, if you are that way inclined) – the guys can use it to boost testosterone, and the ladies can use it for their skin. Believe it or not, there is wide-spread use of coconut oil as a skin product, hair product, and even as make-up remover, just take a look on YouTube.


While cholesterol and saturated fat are potential warning signs to label coconut oil as bad, research shows that coconut oil may actually lower LDL (the bad) cholesterol. Coconut oil's benefits far outweigh any downside it may have, and people should be encouraged to include it in their diet in some capacity. To convince people they should avoid coconut oil just because it contains saturated fats, means people will miss out on its numerous health benefits.